Lord Jagannatha's Ratha Yatra


Ravi Varma Lithograph, c. 1885

Jul 15, CANADA (SUN) — Today is the glorious observance of Lord Jagannatha's Ratha Yatra in Puri. Thanks to the mercy benediction of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada, people all over the planet now have an opportunity to take darshan of Lord Jagannatha, Baladev and Subhadra, as ISKCON Ratha Yatra festivals are going on year-round in cities, towns and villages everywhere. Still, the devotees hanker for the association of Lord Jagannatha in His own Puri Ratha Yatra. Although few of us have the opportunity to travel to Orissa for this ecstatic event, technology now makes it possible for us to enjoy real-time video of the Lord's Ratha in Puri. (This 'live feed' is often delayed… keep checking back.)

Many wonderful stories are found in both Vaisnava and Orissan literature of the great benedictions given by Lord Jagannath, who has alleviated the suffering and fulfilled the desires of his sincere devotees. There are stories of devotees who went to great efforts to get to Jagannatha Puri in time to worship the Lord on His Ratha cart, only to be frustrated in their efforts. But Lord Jagannatha intervened, somehow making it possible for His devotees to get His darshan.

Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu Himself demonstrated the mood of a devotee absorbed in the desire to see Lord Jagannatha's beautiful Form:

    "Chanting the Hare Krsna maha-mantra, His own holy names which bring auspiciousness to the world, His hand trembling with love as He touches the knotted string about His waist to count the number of names, His face bathed in tears as He comes and goes, eager to see His own form of Lord Jagannatha, and bringing great delight to the eyes of all, may the golden form of Lord Hari protect you all.

    Sri Caitanya-candramrta: The Nectar Moon of Sri Caitanya, Chapter One, verse 16, by Srila Prabodhananda Sarasvati

Sometimes the Lord comes to His devotees in dreams, while at other times the devotees travel long distances to the Holy Dhama at Puri in order to get the association of Sri Jagannatha, Baladev and Subhadra. In Srila Narahari dasa's Bhakti-ratnakara, chapter 3, we read about the pastimes of Srinivasa Prabhu, who went to see the tomb of Haridasa Thakura. Absorbed in thoughts of Haridasa Thakura's pure pastimes, Srinivasa fell unconscious to the ground. Pandita Gosvami then ordered Srinivasa and his associate to travel to the temple of Lord Jagannatha, knowing that the Lord's darshan there would alleviate Srinivasa's suffering.

    "Srinivasa entered the temple through the lion-embossed main gate. At that time he looked as brilliant as the sun, his body was smeared with dust and his eyes were red from crying. Everyone was spell bound to see the condition of Srinivasa and at the same time they were charmed to see his magnificent gait. Someone said, "Look at Srinivasa, whose heart is the eternal dwelling place of Krsna Caitanya." Another person agreed with him and said, "It must be true, otherwise so many devotees would not be so concerned about him. Although the companions of Mahaprabhu are in a miserable state due to his disappearance they nevertheless look happy in the presence of Srinivasa." Someone else said, "Jagannatha has brought him here to relieve us of our miseries." Another person said, "The former message of Prabhu is now clear to us." One man said, "I cannot bear to see the misery of such a gentle boy."

    Srinivasa paid his respects before the Singha Dwara gate and went first to see the Lord who delivers sinners from damnation. After that he went forward to see Sri Sinha deva and paid his regards to the deity by eulogising in various ways. Then he very cautiously entered the temple and stood to one side where he could see the divine face of Nilacala Candra from a distance.

    The beauty of Jagannatha and Baladeva

    The beauty of Nilacala Candra was so splendid that it could beat the beauty of a dark cloud about to pour water. His lotus eyes stretched out of his ears and the beauty of his face could defeat millions of moons. How wonderful were his hands, how beautiful and glamorous he appeared in ornaments and bright dress. Long flower garlands that touched the ground hung from his beautiful neck and a crown of flowers bedecked his attractive head.

    Srinivasa then looked at the deity of Sri Baladeva who was so beautiful that he defeated the brilliance of the moon or the kinda flower or a sandal mountain. What a beautiful face, even a glance from his eyes could make a kandarpa senseless. His hands, eyebrows, large eyes and forehead were so beautiful that it would be impossible for anyone to describe them properly. Srinivasa felt thrilled to see the beauty of Sri Baladeva and became mesmerised by the beauty of Sri Subhadra. He also observed the illustrious Sudarshana Chakra with full satisfaction. The main priest of Prabhu Jagannatha gave Srinivasa prasadam and a flower garland use by the Lord. Srinivasa visited all the temples within the compound of the main temple and at last he and his guide returned to the house of Sri Gopinatha where he again paid his obeisances to the lotus feet of the deity."

In the story of Srimati Sachidevi, who was later known as Sri Gangamata Goswamini, we read of Lord Jagannatha appearing in the dreams of his devotees in order to make arrangements for them to receive His direct mercy. The king Mukunda had such a dream, in which Lord Jagannatha instructed him to make a special place on the banks of the Ganges for Sachidevi. He did so, and the Lord then came to Sachidevi in a dream, knowing her great desire to bath in the Ganges, although she had been forbidden by her spiritual master to ever leave Jagannath Puri. In Lives of the Saints by Satyaraja dasa (Steven Rosen) we read the biography of Sri Gangamata Goswamini:

    "Sri Sachidevi left Vrindavana and returned to Jagannatha Puri. On the order of her gurudev, she went to the house where Sarvabhauma Pandit had once stayed. There she engaged in bhajan and began giving classes on the Srimad-Bhagavatam. The old house of Sarvabhauma was dilapidated and crumbling. For a long time no one had lived there. No one remained there to worship the Damodara Salagram that had once been worshiped by Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya himself. Sacidevi established first-class worship of the shalagrama according to the traditional rules and regulations of the shastra. In order to hear her wonderful siddhantic interpretations of the Srimad-Bhagavatam, faithful devotees would come to Sarvabhauma's house day after day. In a short time her Bhagavatam classes became very famous, and people would come from miles around just to hear her.

    One day, the king of Jagannatha Puri, Mukunda Dev, came to hear the Bhagavatam from Sachidevi. Hearing her original explanations of siddhanta, the king was completely astounded. He thought to himself that he would like to make a nice offering to Sachidevi, out of appreciation for her devotion to Krishna. That night he had a wonderful dream. Lord Jagannatha came to him in his dream and ordered him, "Offer Sachidevi a place on the banks of the Ganges." the following day king Mukunda deva went to Sachidevi. With great humility, Sachidevi offered the king a sitting place and asked him the reason for his visit. King Mukunda deva explained about the vision he received from Jagannatha and how the Lord had instructed him to construct a place by the Ganges for Sachidevi. Sri Sachidevi was not disposed to accept any sort of wealth or comfortable situation and wanted to refuse. But the king kept pressing his wishes again and again. At that time, not wanting to violate Lord Jagannatha's order, King Mukunda deva issued a decree naming a holy ghat by the side of of the White Ganges after Sri Sachidevi.

    The decree let it be known that Sri Sachidevi was a princess who had left everything to come to Jagannatha Puri and preach the holy gospel of Sri Caitanya.

    One day the day of Mahavaruni-snana approached and Sri Sachidevi wanted to go to the Ganges to bathe. But Sachidevi's gurudeva had forbidden her ever to leave Jagannatha Puri. Remembering the order of her gurudeva, Sachidevi gave up her desire to bathe in the Ganges. That night, Jagannatha came to her in a dream and said, "Sachi, don't think like that-the day when Varuni will take bath that day you must go and bathe in the White Ganges. Gangadevi has been praying for your association. So you must go to the White Ganges."

    Having had such a divine vision from Jagannatha, Sachidevi was very joyful. The day of Varuni-snana came. In the middle of the night, Sachidevi went to the White Ganges to bathe. As she bathed at Sveta Ganga, the current of Gangadevi picked her up and began moving along. The waters of the Ganges overflooded the pond, and the current ran before her in a flood until she arrived at the Jagannatha Mandira. Seeing this, thousands and thousands of the dhambhasis in Jagannatha Puri became ecstatic and took their bath in the Ganges. The four directions were filled with prayers that were shouted in great ecstasy, and there was a huge commotion. In the midst of great jubilation everyone bathed in the Ganges.

    In the midst of the commotion the guards at the gate of the Jagannatha temple awoke. They were speechless at seeing the commotion going on in all directions. Hearing a great noise they went inside the temple. They began talking loudly amongst themselves. Hearing all the noise, the king had also awakened. Anxious to see that everything was all right, the king ordered the gates to the temple opened. At this, the gates were opened. By some miracle, Sachidevi was standing there, alone, inside the temple of Jagannatha. The servants and pujaris of Jagannatha concluded that she must be a thief who has come to steal the valuable ornaments of Jagannatha. Many people said, "This cannot be! There must be some mystery here." Immediately Sachidevi was imprisoned in the dungeons to stand trial for theft. Sachidevi's mind, however, did not become weak or confused. While imprisoned, she absorbed herself in constantly chanting the holy name of Krishna.

    Late that night, King Mukunda dev saw Lord Jagannatha in a dream. Jagannatha angrily told him: "Immediately release Sachidevi from your dungeons. It was because I wanted to personally arrange for washing her holy feet that I had the Ganges bring her to my temple. If you want your life to be auspicious, then you had better make the pandas and pujaris bow at her feet and pray for forgiveness. You yourself must take initiation from her.

    Seeing this in his dream, the king was repentant, and right after taking his bath, he had the pandas and pujaris go to the place where Sachidevi was being held and immediately release her, falling at her feet and begging for forgiveness. They went there and payed full obeisances, falling down like rods before her feet. The king himself went before Sachidevi, and with great entreaties begged her to forgive him for his offenses at the holy feet of a devotee. At that time, he told Sachidevi of how Lord Jagannatha had ordered him to accept her as his guru and take mantra initiation from her.

    Understanding all these things to be the pastimes of Lord Jagannatha, Sachidevi became extremely joyful. Her heart filled with divine love for Krishna. Placing her hand on the king's head, she gave him her blessings. Soon after this, on the order of Jagannatha, on an auspicious day, Sri Sachidevi initiated King Mukunda Deva into the eighteen syllable Radha-Krishna mantra. Along with the king, many pujaris also took shelter of her on that day. From that day forward, Sri Sachidevi was known as Gangamata Goswamini."

In chapter one of his Prema Vilasa, Sri Nityananda dasa has described the inconceivably amazing pastime of Srinivasa Acarya Thakura's birth. In the story, Lord Jagannatha appeared in a dream to Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, requesting Him to go and find Caitanya dasa Acarya and his wife Laksmipriya, to whom Jagannatha had given the benediction of a son. In the dream Lord Jagannatha asked Mahaprabhu to deposit His divine love within the son, who was to be Srinivasa, thus fulfilling the hearts desires of his parents.

    "Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu sent Nityananda Prabhu to Gauda to flood the land with love of Godhead. However, when Mahaprabhu inquired about events in Gauda from some Vaisnavas who arrived from there, He was told that no Harinama was being held in Gauda. They also reported that Advaita Acarya Prabhu had given up the doctrine of devotion and was now propagating the theory of salvation. Shocked and angry, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu lamented the absence of Nityananda Prabhu at this time of distress.

    Shortly thereafter Svarupa Damodara and Ramananda Raya suddenly arrived there and the Lord welcomed them joyfully. The Lord then explained the dilemma in Gauda, "Gauda has become devoid of devotion. Although Advaita Acarya is the embodiment of God, he has discarded devotion and is propagating the five types of liberation. I cannot understand the mind of Advaita. I can hardly believe my ears, perhaps this is simply a false rumour. Please suggest something to save the situation."

    Just at that moment a letter arrived from Nityananda Prabhu. The Lord reluctantly read the letter, fearing the contents. As the Lord had feared, Nityananda Prabhu verified the rumors regarding Advaita Acarya. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu immediately replied to the letter then went to the temple of Lord Jagannatha, along with His associates, for darsana. Seeing Garuda in the temple compound soothed the heart of the Lord.

    While the Lord was relishing the sight of Garuda, Sarvabhauma suddenly came before Mahaprabhu. Simply upon seeing Sarvabhauma, Mahaprabhu fell into a trance and began explaining superiority of devotion over salvation. Bhattacarya carried the Lord out of the temple and brought Him to the house of Kasi Misra. Upon regaining His external consciousness, Mahaprabhu gave Nityananda's letter to Sarvabhauma and ordered him to read it. Upon reading the contents of the letter, Bhattacarya became furious. "Who is this ignorant person who is propagating the doctrine of salvation in place of devotion," he retorted. "The three of us shall go to Gauda and challenge this fool to a debate, and if he refuses we shall bring him by force."

    Hearing these words Mahaprabhu became joyful and immediately wrote two letters, one to Advaita Acarya and the other to Nityananda Prabhu. These letter where carried to Gauda by one Vaisnava.

    With folded hands Bhattacarya said, "I am the most unfortunate person, but by Your grace I have understood that devotion cannot be attained through argument. Devotional service alone can satisfy the soul, salvation cannot. Previously I spent many hours in fruitless arguments with Gopinatha Acarya who, understanding Your glories, tried to convince me of the superiority of devotional service. Through your dear devotee, Gopinatha Acarya, You saved me from the blind path of salvation and implanted the seed of devotion within me." After some time Bhattacarya and the other devotees returned to their homes.

    Left alone, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu could not stop thinking about the unfortunate condition of the fallen conditioned souls of this age who are devoid of devotion. Intently He considered how the glories of devotional service could be spread throughout the world. For this reason the Lord had empowered the two brothers, Rupa and Sanatana, and sent them to Vrndavana to write and publish devotional literatures. Now He wanted to enlighten Gauda. How could He send Nityananda for this purpose. People in general would not easily accept the doctrine of devotion. Thinking in this way the Lord decided that it was necessary to bring forth another person who was capable of distributing love of Godhead. Thus Mahaprabhu called out the name of Mother Earth. The Deity of the Earth immediately appeared before the Lord with folded hands and Prabhu said, "Oh Mother Earth, please listen to Me carefully. You must bear a person who is filled with love for God."

    Mother Earth replied, "O My Lord, whatever divine love which you deposit within me, I shall distribute to the proper person at the proper time." With a delighted heart the Lord agreed to her proposal, but He did not give the name of the person who would be the recipient of this love.

    When Svarupa Damodara and Ramananda Raya came to see the Lord, Mahaprabhu said, "It is good that you have come, now let us consider what is to be done." Mahaprabhu then informed them about His conversation with the Earth. Simply speaking about this incidence filled the Lord with ecstatic emotions and He cried out the name of Nityananda Prabhu, then fell unconscious. After a long time Svarupa began to chant the holy name in the Lord's ear and thus He regained external consciousness. Mahaprabhu then suggested that they go to have darsana of Lord Jagannatha, when suddenly Sarvabhauma arrived on the spot.

    Pleased to see Sarvabhauma, the Lord offered him a seat and said, "Listen, Advaita Acarya has given up the path of devotional service and is propagating the theory of salvation, so what should we do?"

    Sarvabhauma, who was very unhappy to see the distressed condition of the Lord, replied, "Advaita Acarya is God Himself and the creator of this universe. He cannot talk like this. Who has told you about this? Bring him here before me."

    Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu said, "Advaita became upset with Me because I left Navadvipa. He is doing this to frighten the people... I have full faith in Acarya and cannot violate his orders. But please suggest some solution to this dilemma so that the path of devotion may be irrevocably established."

    Bhattacarya replied, "O my Lord, only You can indicate the proper course of action. I am the living proof of that. I was wrongly fascinated by the doctrine of Maya, yet by Your grace I was rectified. Now the people of the world are being oppressed by the domination of atheistic kings. Now, it is up to you and Nityananda Prabhu to propagate the cult of devotion. Previously You sent Nityananda Prabhu to Gauda to cure the diseased persons there with the medicine of the sankirtana movement.

    Mahaprabhu said, "I am now separated from Nityananda Prabhu, so what shall I do?"

    Bhattacarya suggested, "Only you can consult with Sri Jagannatha Deva of Nilacala. Then certainly everything will be revealed."

    "That is a good idea Bhatta," the Lord said, "let us go to see Lord Jagannatha."

    In the temple Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu prayed intently to Jagannatha Deva. Suddenly the fourteen yard long garland of Jagannatha fell to the ground and the priest handed it to Prabhu. Filled with happiness Mahaprabhu returned to His house and peacefully went to bed. That night Sri Jagannatha Deva appeared to Him in a dream. Smiling brightly the Lord said to Mahaprabhu, "You are superior to Me in quality. One very worthy brahmana by the name of Caitanya Dasa Acarya has been crying before me, begging for the benediction of a son. I became very moved by his devotion and granted him his boon. He is certainly a worthy recipient of your mercy. You should deposit your divine love within him, and fulfill his hearts desire. His wife Laksmipriya is the daughter of Balarama. She is a devoted wife and endowed with a sweet disposition."

    At that very moment Mahaprabhu came back to his sense and cried in despair due to separation from Lord Jagannatha. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu called on Kasi Misra and ordered him to bring Caitanya dasa Acarya of Gauda, explaining that this was the direct order of Lord Jagannatha. Misra replied, "My Lord, the brahmana Caitanya dasa was here in Puri for a long time but now he has returned to his home." "Do you know where he lives, the Lord asked?" "I will find out," Misra said.

    In the meantime Jagadananda arrived from Vrndavana. The Lord inquired about Sanatana's well being, and Jagadananda reported that everything was fine in Vraja. Jagadananda had also visited Mahaprabhu's mother in Navadvipa and Advaita Acarya in Santipura. When he was departing from Acarya's house, Advaita Prabhu said something mysterious and requested that the message be conveyed to Mahaprabhu. When Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu heard the message He began to laugh and said that He had never heard such a riddle. However, from that time Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu began to manifest great sorrow in separation from Krsna. Heeding the words of Lord Jagannatha, Mahaprabhu began to search for the brahmana Caitanya dasa.

    At that time the earth, being unable to bear the burden of Mahaprabhu's love any longer. She began to shake and tremble throughout the entire day and night. Speaking amongst themselves people said that this was not an earthquake, but it was Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu who was responsible for the earth's condition. Formerly Caitanya Mahaprabhu had deposited his love in the ocean which had flooded Nilacala. The ocean, unable to bear the force of that love, deposited it on the earth, who was also unable to bear the weight, began to shake the entire country. Some people began to consider leaving the country, while others thought why should they abandon their homeland. Others felt that only Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu could solve the dilemma.

    When Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, Svarupa Damodara, and other devotees came out from Mahaprabhu's residence the excited people excitedly pleaded with the Lord. "Previously you saved us from a flood, now the earth is shaking, O Lord, please save us from this calamity. You are the only one who can save us, do something to help us so that we do not have to move elsewhere."

    Meanwhile the priest of the temple brought Jagannatha prasadam and reported to Mahaprabhu, "O Lord, I am no longer able to perform the worship of Lord Jagannatha. Every time I try to touch the Lord, His whole body begins to tremble. Thus the worship of Lord Jagannatha has come to a complete halt. The priest then requested Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu to personally perform the worship of Jagannatha Deva. Mahaprabhu called upon the earth and ordered her to take control of herself. He then pacified the priest and all of them returned to their own houses. All the while the Caitanya Mahaprabhu's mind was preoccupied with thought of Caitanya dasa.

    Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu again called upon Mother Earth and inquired of the whereabouts of Caitanya dasa. The Earth replied that there are many Caitanya dasa's, which one was she to search for? The Lord then told her whatever he knew about Caitanya dasa.

    Three days later the Earth returned and informed the Lord that there was a Caitanya dasa living in Cakandi village. He was a very religious minded brahmana and was now performing some rituals for the birth of a son. Filled with joy, the Lord ordered the Earth, "Listen to me carefully, you go and deposit the entire quantity of divine love which I gave to you upon the wife of Caitanya dasa, Laksmipriya." The Earth at once obeyed the Lord's order. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, feeling greatly relieved and happy, began dancing in kirtana in the courtyard of the temple of Lord Jagannatha. The Lord stood before Jagannatha Deva with folded hands and began to cry, uttering the name of Srinivasa. Jagannatha Deva, being very delighted, began to laugh and showered His divine love upon Caitanya dasa. Seeing the smile of Lord Jagannatha, Caitanya Mahaprabhu also began to laugh. Being ordered by Lord Jagannatha, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu sent His love to Caitanya dasa, the result of which was a son named Srinivasa who would perform many transcendental pastimes in his life. Formerly Rupa and Sanatana went to Vrndavana to write and publish devotional books regarding Radha Krsna lila. Later the responsibility to distribute the message of the Gosvamis would fall upon Srinivasa. After bowing to Lord Jagannatha, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu returned to his house."

In the 2006 Sun series, Dark Darling of the Blue Hill, we enjoyed the poetry of Salabega, a great devotee of Lord Jagannatha from the early 17th century.

    "Salabega was the son of the Mughal subedar Lalbeg, who was overcome with passion looking at a Brahmin widow returning from her bath at Dandamukundapur. He forcibly abducted and married her. Salabega was later born to this widow.

    It is believe that the poet suffered from some incurable ailment and through prayers to Lord Jagannatha, as advised by his mother, he was miraculously cured. Salabega, being the son of a Muslim, was denied entry into the temple but his deep devotion was answered by his dear Lord in his manifestation as Patitapabana inside the Lion's Gate.

    The poet identified Lord Jagannatha completely with Sri Krishna. The poet was always eager to witness the Ratha Yatra so he could get a glimpse of his Lord. Once he was held up on way while returning from Vrindavan and prayed earnestly to the Lord that he should wait for him on the Nandighosha chariot till he reached Puri. The Lord is said to have waited there and gave a darshan to his dear devotee Salabega on the Bada Danda, near Balagandi."

In his Orissan hymn, "Enchanter of the World", the poet Salabega offers this glorification of Lord Jagannatha, who continually delights His devotees each year during Ratha Yatra:

Enchanter of the World

O Lord! You were closeted so long
Inside the Anasarai chamber.
You have come out today at last.
Taking the tribhangi stance, you gaze.
Pushing the hands with your shapely arms
Swaying with the grace of a wild elephant
You consume the deadly sins.
A tender, sweet smile lingering
On your pretty lips,
You offer unsolicited to the three worlds.
O Lord of the Universe!
O Lord who dwells in the Blue Hills!
Taking on a most seductive appearance
You redeem the three worlds by your glance.
Says Salabega, the lowly one,
O Lord! Truly are you Jagamohana.
You have taken the shape
Of the Enchanter of the Worlds!


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